Bournemouth 0 Arsenal 2: Nerves settled, Arsene Wenger is convinced Arsenal will face Leicester City with a renewed belief they can sustain their Premier League title challenge.
Wenger’s side travelled to Bournemouth desperate to end a worrying dip in form and in the knowledge Claudio Ranieri’s side had offered compelling evidence they can last the course just 24 hours earlier.
Leicester’s unexpected victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium had ramped up the fairytale factor in this season’s title race — in Wenger’s eyes, they are now favourites — and, more importantly, opened an eight-point gap to Arsenal who started the day in fourth.
Anything less than victory at Bournemouth would have added to the belief Arsenal are once again poised to fall short when it matters most.
Instead, Wenger’s side responded with a display of hard graft, capped by two goals inside a minute midway through the first-half from Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain which were enough to raise the stakes ahead Sunday’s meeting at the Emirates Stadium.
The win moved the Gunners third, with the prospect of a second successive victory lifting them to within two points of the leaders.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was convinced Arsenal were helped on their way by the generosity of referee Kevin Friend, who adjudged Mathieu Flamini’s eighth-minute challenge to be worthy of no more than a yellow card.
But Wenger’s concern was only with his side’s response. “Of course we needed a result, for two reasons,” said the manager. “One we haven’t won for a while, we had four games without a win. When you play at the top, that’s a long period, confidence drops a little bit.
“And Leicester running away and us playing them next week, to make the game interesting, it was very important for us to win today.
“Look, in one week, Leicester has beaten Liverpool and Man City. So that means suddenly they become the favourite in the league. That makes our game on Sunday a very big one.”
He added: “We cannot control people’s opinions. We can just control our performances and to show that we believe in it, you know, and that we have the level to do it. There’s still a very long way to go.
“I agree Leicester now is the favourite. We have a big game at home now against them, and I believe we have enough quality and nerves to deal with that.”
Arsenal would certainly have been forced to endure a more testing afternoon if the referee had agreed with Howe about Flamini’s two-footed challenge on Dan Gosling.
“It was a straight red, a simple decision,” said the Bournemouth manager. “I was surprised when the referee only produced a yellow.
“I haven’t seen a reply but it was two-footed and Dan could’ve been seriously injured on another occasion.”
Howe certainly had a point, but Wenger took a completely different view. “Honestly, I felt even at the start it was free-kick for us,” said the Frenchman.
“Flamini was first on the ball. I didn’t see how high his feet were, he was first on the ball.” Bournemouth felt aggrieved, but had only themselves to blame for failing to offer stronger resistance when Arsenal took control of the game.
Aaron Ramsey was the provider for both goals, setting up the 23rd minute opening goal with a clipped ball towards the far post that Olivier Giroud headed into the path of Ozil and the Germany international finished from ten yards out.
Moments later, Bournemouth were again undone by Ramsey, who collected a loose ball after Alexis Sanchez’s forward run had been blocked and set Oxlade-Chamberlain free on the right hand side of the box.
The winger’s finish belied the fact this was his first league goal since September 2014 and his first ever Premier League goal away from home. The relief of the England international mirrored that of his team.
Bournemouth struggled to get going before the break but responded impressively after the restart. Their attempts to get back into the game, however, were denied by a combination of Arsenal’s determined defence and the excellence of keeper Petr Cech.
A similar display next Sunday could see Arsenal well and truly back in contention.
Boruc 6; Smith 8, Francis 5, Cook 5, Daniels 6; Surman 8; Ritchie 5 (Stanislas 66, 6), Gosling 7 (King 66, 6) , Arter 7, Pugh 7; Afobe 6 (Grabban 77).
Cech 8; Bellerin 6, Gabriel 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 6; Flamini 6, Ramsey 8; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Coquelin 67, 6), Ozil 9, Sanchez 6 (Gibbs 81); Giroud 6 (Walcott 90).
K Friend (Leicester) 6
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